An Indelible Presence: The Big Two-Hearted Woman

By Anthony Kovatch, M.D. — Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia



“Good –bye,” said the fox. Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

–from “The Little Prince.”


Remote flashbulb: In spite of her efforts in the past to recruit me, Doctor Goessler realized that because of my age (I was three months older than Mary but about twenty years older that my new-to-private-practice colleagues), I was not warmly accepted. Professional competition takes its toll. When I had to take a sick day off because of food poisoning incurred during a cruise and felt guilty, she wrote me this letter on my return:

“I am thrilled that you went away for a vacation and hope that you had a GREAT time! You need to do more to pamper yourself a bit. I hope you are feeling better today… I am glad, very glad, that you actually took care of yourself and called off yesterday. No one was upset and the schedule worked out fine. Please relax so we can work with you for another 20 years (which will only happen if you take care of you!).”



Ignorant, hard-boiled, and self-important as I was in those years, I paid no heed to her advice, but merely stashed the letter away in a compartment of my old black bag, never voicing any appreciation. Twenty years later when I learned of her untimely death, I pulled it out of its place of hiding, and on a day I was too sick to work because of influenza, I finally answered her letter — here for all the world to read.

Back to obituaries. Included in the outpouring of gratification following her death, an old mutual colleague and (fellow running mate of mine) Doctor Michael Forbes wrote: “If there is a ‘Mount Rushmore of Pediatrics’ in the great state of Pennsylvania, Mary would be etched in it.”

Now Doctor Forbes is an Intensive Care Specialist and I am merely a clinician in the trenches. However, I think Mary would prefer to be a part of the little monument below, holding the little children fondly between her arms and curing all their worries and fears. And when she needed to pamper herself, she would be playing golf with the elite and eating “nutcake.”



In the final scene of “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” beloved teacher Charles Chippins responds to sad remarks from fellow teachers as he lies dying. He thus responds: “I thought I heard you saying it was a pity… pity I never had any children.” (His wife had died in childbirth.)

“But you’re wrong. I have thousands of them. Thousands of them….”

In spite of all the fame and glory and adulation of the world, I believe in her second and true heart — her heart of all hearts — Mary Charlotte Goessler’s “rosebud” was “thousands.”

I would like to hope, now that I have finally answered her letter, that I was one of the thousands. I think she wanted us all to be, especially those of us who knew that we did it all for love. In the world of the Big Two-Hearted Women it was all about love — after all, she was a cardiologist.


“One Singular Sensation” from “A Chorus Line”